// christians and coffee shops (aka. 2009’s great love affair)

I seem to spend the vast majority of my life in coffee shops (independent where possible, although i’m writing this today from a Caffe Nero), and the vast majority of that time with my ipod in my ears. If i’m having a good day, my bible will likely be open, but if not, as happens much more often, then i’ll invariably have a stack of English-related papers and a large Americano. I won’t be the only Christian there, odds on. At any given time in one particular Oxford Nero, there will undoubtedly be two people reading Bibles; in another, a certain Pastor of Theology has a fixed seat and can be found from 10am-2pm most days. My independent Oxford coffee-house of choice does a number of things right; fairtrade beans, comfortable sofas, poetry on the walls and amazing vanilla Chai Lattes (among others), but has become a haunt for Christians at all hours for many of these reasons, and it’s got me thinking.

I live my life in coffee shops, and i love this culture; love the culture of meeting people and talking faith in the real world, love being the guy in the corner carrying God wherever he goes, but recently i have to ask myself just how engaged in all of this i really am. Sure, i might be in the world, but it’s only in the remotest of senses – i’m there in body, i guess, but i wonder how far the same could be said about being there in spirit. Part of this comes down to being in a fundamentally individualistic culture, naturally – and rightfully so, as the few experiences i’ve had of coffee-shop evangelism still wake me up in cold sweats some nights. But far from being engaged with the culture, i actually feel disengaged – like these places are some kind of extension of my office (i don’t have an office, but think hypothetically for a second), still sectioned off from the rest of the real world.

You have to ask yourself sometimes whether the Christian claiming of coffee-shop culture doesn’t just come down to a wilful avoidance of the real places of engagement in this world… I might meet up with other Christians in Caffe Nero to talk about faith but i would almost never do that with my non-Christian friends, as that’s just not how they work. The best conversations that i’ve had have been over games of Pro Evolution Soccer or in the kitchen, cooking dinner – in the minimal, the trivial and the everyday. I have yet to convince any of my housemates to come to an organised Bible study, but one of my friends came to church so that his band could play in a Battle of the Bands and another asked me about free will and determinism whilst we were playing Bioshock.

I’m on my second cup of coffee today, and i praise God for that privilege – that i have the time, the space and the freedom to do just that – that this space exists to come and meeet with God, a sanctuary in the midst of a life that can be madly hectic at times. I’m currently balancing Pete Greig and Gordon MacDonald on top of a massive caffeine high, and it’s stimulating, exciting food for thought. The danger, however, is that i end up living this whole life in a cosy, comfortable coffee-shop culture and never having the time for those moments with my housemates that actually matter. What use is it gaining insight and wisdom from great books if you don’t have the space to put any of it into practice?

None of which is supposed to suggest that individual study or this kind of space is a bad thing – i am an introvert, after all, and i wouldn’t survive without this. But it does convince me of the need to invest in other areas – to be conscious that the easy way isn’t always the best way (no matter how useful it seems to be), and to remember that evangelism, real evangelism, happens in the everyday.

It would always help if that ‘everyday’ wasn’t spent on my own, behind the headphones of an ipod or hidden behind a Christian book, then. What was it that Peter said? “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope you have”? For that to happen, we (and i), need to be engaged with the culture, in the world and engaging with the questions that are being asked, where they are being asked.

Not, like me, hidden behind a book in Caffe Nero.

As what use is it knowing any of the answers if nobody dares to come up to you and ask?

What do you think?

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